Oklahoma City family fun brings up some serious topics sometimes.
Science Museum Oklahoma is hosting Bodies Revealed through Oct. 29, an exhibition that tours nationally. The display features specimens and anatomical examples from more than 200 human bodies. Human tissue that includes every major organ system as well as individual parts of the body is plasticized, preserved with liquid silicone rubber.
As the presenting company's website states, "Bodies Revealed lets visitors of all ages explore deep within the human body in a way that informs but doesn't overwhelm."
I agree with that statement; the exhibition is extremely educational and it's presented from a scientific perspective that feels like visiting a histology class.
Sam is 10, Isaac is 5 and I worried as the date approached for our visit that it might be too much. My in-laws are doctors and we're good with discussing all things medical but graphic images and morbid themes are not something I would seek out. I won't even buy gory Halloween decorations. This was not that.
Here are four topics to bring up with your kids before going to see Bodies Revealed:
The amazing ways our bodies work: The incredible systems in every human body are shown in detail, which underscores the miracle that is every human. I can preach all day long about the value of human life and to be careful because even the best doctors cannot fix every injury. The intricate details within the exhibition, though, show that much better. They illustrate the beauty that we take for granted. There is more of an appreciation for our health and for the fact that the body is a complex machine since going to see Bodies Revealed. That conversation is easy to tailor to your child's age and interest level. Self-care suddenly has a very tangible purpose.
Smoking, drinking and their effects: Talking with your children about tobacco use and excessive drinking is on every doctor's office pamphlet and parenting website. We have those conversations a few times a week in our house; my grandma was a pack-a-day smoker and she passed away when I was 10. Showing my children what lungs with cancer look like, though, and how a liver with cirrhosis compares to a healthy liver makes an impression that goes beyond illustrations.
Reproduction: The exhibition contains an area with reproductive science specimens, including visible anatomy and preserved fetuses at different stages of development. I can only speak for our family but I want my sons to know exactly how babies come into the world, as well as sexual health issues, in ways that are age-appropriate; it's just the very human biological reality we face explaining to them as parents. I was nervous about my own reaction because I've had a stillbirth and several miscarriages. There was definitely a time when I couldn't have faced those jars without an emotional reaction.
If those experiences are an uncomfortable part of your own history or you just aren't ready to brace these topics with your kids yet, it's easy to simply avoid the walled-off space that is clearly marked. Instead, I chose to focus on the fact that so many small things have to go just right for that positive end result and we are fortunate to have three healthy children. How cool is it that I've made 30 fingers and 30 toes, three spleens and six eyes, each with all their inherent complexity? There is a spiritual element if that perspective appeals to you.
Death and dying: Death as a fact of life and its inevitability are topics that have just started to come up for my sons. End-of-life choices, like hospice, and the process of what happens when we die lead to bigger questions about the afterlife and family beliefs that only you can answer. Sam's own mortality was something we talked about after the visit. Organ donation and how that can be a life-saving gift for another family is also a topic we discussed.
Important conversations are part of the parenting landscape. It's all a matter of context and individual reactions. As Communications Director Lindsay Thomas explained, there is no exhibition age restriction because "you know your child better than anyone else."
Sam looked a little, well, ashen when we first went inside but he came around to understand the marvel of it all after some quick side chats about why people donate their bodies to science.
Isaac, my kindergartner, was fascinated and had a lot of questions that were medically relevant. It was, for him, like walking through the pages of a human anatomy book. He loves science and all those "Magic School Bus" episodes came up as we went through. He wasn't phased by any of it.
I didn't leave the exhibition feeling upset but instead just really grateful that science has helped us understand these super complex systems. I felt a lot of hope, actually, for the progress that medicine has made and will continue to make. Nothing was disturbing to me.
We went on with our afternoon at Science Museum Oklahoma but questions did come up later. The experience serves as a reference point and the school year is off to a good start when you see something beyond what any textbook could show. Sam studied the body's tiniest bones, the three in the inner ear, and he keeps bringing up how much he loved seeing those, so small but so effective. I might be able to get him to turn down his headphones in a few years with that reminder.
Take the time this fall to tackle a must-know topic and plan a museum visit. There's nothing to be afraid of with this very matter-of-fact approach. I wish you good conversation karma!